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Robotic Oil Spill Cleaner

Could tiny robots be our nation’s future go-to cleaning solution for massive oil spills? The University of Colorado Boulder seems to think so.

In fact, they’ve created a lab specifically designed for building tiny swarms of robotic balls that work together to clean up oil. The lab consists of 20 ping-pong ball sized robots, which the students refer to as “droplets”.

The droplets work together to create a “liquid that thinks”. It’s quite incredible to consider a future where robots think autonomously to solve problems, but that’s exactly what UCB Assistant Professor Nikolaus Correll imagines will one day become reality.

“Every living organism is made from a swarm of collaborating cells. Perhaps some day, our swarms will colonize space assembling habitats and lush gardens for space explorers,” said Correll.

The UCB lab allows students to test the robot’s behaviors in a multitude of different scenarios and environments.

This video will give you an example of what the future oil cleaning ‘bots will look like once they evolve beyond the prototype stage. Much like insects, a single organism can’t do much by itself, but multiplied by thousands, it can accomplish many seemingly impossible feats.

One of the obstacles barring wider implementation of these robots is the fact that no one has been able to create them to be easily recycled. As of now, most of the components and material isn’t recyclable, which means once they reach their operational limit, they’ll be tossed into the scrap pile. Until the day comes when we can throw these into our recycling bins, we likely won’t see them implemented further than the design stage.

But when that day arrives, these tiny robots will definitely become a major part of our day-to-day construction methods, going everywhere from underground tunnels to outer space platform designing.

In essence, they’re nothing more than blown up nanobots, which, are more than capable of completing the most extraordinary of tasks.

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